Tag Archives: Lekhah Dodi

Tzfat Shabbat

20 Jan

Tzfat (Photo credit: tunnelarmr)

The mystical city of Tzfat,  in which I spent Shabbat with my parents, is renowned on numerous levels. Rich in history, Tzfat is one of the holy cities of Judaism. Atop the mountain, blasted by a stiff wind, sits a crusader fortress which lies in ruin but affords fabulous views of Mount Meron to the West and villages of Galilee in the surrounding valleys. The art galleries and old synagogues, including those of R’ Yosef Karo and The Ari z”l, which draw captive audiences from tourists and residents alike. Halls of study are tucked into alleys, along with shops selling trinkets of countless variety. Walking through the narrow streets before Shabbat afforded me spectacular whiffs of chicken soup, challah, roasted vegetable, and other Shabbat fare. Tzfat also attracts a certain self-selecting population of shoe-less kabbalists eager to take dunk in a mikvah (ritual bath) said to have mystical properties. Musicians in the streets strumming guitars croak out melodies, some beautiful, some less so. Standing and watching the sunset as Shabbat began, it becomes very easy to understand the inspiration for the institution of the Psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, as well R’ Alkabetz’s poem, L’cha Dodi. As I walked the alleys I came within earshot of one synagogue after another, each one in the midst of welcoming the Shabbat Bride through spirited song.

In addition to the historical significance, it is truly the people who make Tzfat more than a destination, but also an unforgettable experience. It was in the dining room of the hotel where the hilarity ensued and the memories were forged. Ten tables were set for parties numbering from two to four, replete with all of the fixings to begin a Shabbat meal, salatim, grape juice with our family name taped to the top, challah rolls, full place settings, including dessert spoons. One by one the other parties were trickling in from their respective synagogues. There was the Satmar Hasid and his wife, the British couple with an entire bottle of Johnny Walker, three Yemini men, the young Chabad couple who took nearly a half hour from their entrance into the room to the beginning of the meal, the four yeshiva boys who ate everything in site, a young Sephardi couple, and a party of three one of whose members did not cease talking for all of Shabbat. And of course, us.

As we were enjoying the sumptuous feast, I was describing to my mother, whose back was to the room, the ongoing scene. One small child fell off his chair onto his face, uncontrolled began as the parents tried to comfort their eldest son, the younger brother continued to eat, apparently unconcerned. Four yeshiva boys provided their own massive loaves of challah, all of which were devoured. Unclear how much Johnny Walker was consumed, or when exactly the young Chabad couple finally began their meal. The Satmar couple complete with streimel and white socks (on the husband), were seated next to me. Every once in a while he would serenade his wife, she joined in from time to time, while he beat out the incorrect rhythm by tapping his white socked foot. At one point as he sung to her, she was busy reading. At least two parties brought their own beverages to supplement the pitchers of ice water, and of course there was the Johnny Walker. One of the Teimani men abruptly began singing at the top of his lungs, he was joined by neither his table mates, nor anybody else in the room. The diners made their way through the multiple courses culminating in the chocolate mousse dessert. One by one they filed back to their rooms to retire for the evening. Fortunately the experience was replayed twice during Shabbat day, except the child managed to stay in his chair for those meals.

On a more serious note, I did enjoy sharing space and time with other Jews whose practices might be slightly different than my own, and than each others. I would surmise that perhaps one of the parties would fall into the “Dati Leumi” category to which I most closely identify in Israel, while the others ranged from black-hat Orthodox to Hasidic. Despite any differences, there was a real sense of kinship in the room as we, at our separate tables, sat down to observe Shabbat together.


Fire Over T’Fillah

11 Dec

Although we are now a few weeks removed from the tense days of war that came to define the month of November, the exact moment of the first siren has remained with me, a quasi-trauma, a frozen second that I imagine will probably never depart my psyche. In a previous blog, I wrote regularly about t’fillah, aspects thereof, and I would be remiss to leave this particular experience undocumented.

Kabbalat Shabbat, a compilation of Psalms designated by the Kabbalists of the 16th Century, which is recited, often sung, every Friday night in most communities has become one of the most significant aspects of my week. When done “correctly,” the combination of singing, energy, and outpouring of emotion, can reach some near euphoric state. Somewhere between the vibrations of voices mingled and the sheer passion, there exists a supreme peace, an acknowledgement that the six working days have concluded and the transcendence of time and space, Shabbat, has begun. That is,until with a shrill and defined wail, the sound of an air raid siren shatters the peace.

It takes a few seconds for synapses to fire, it takes a few seconds to realize, it takes a few seconds to be able to uproot ones feet when davening is quieted at yeshiva and the announcement is made about incoming missiles necessitating an immediate scramble to a sheltered area. That Shabbat I was hosting a dear friend, as the entire yeshiva began to move as one towards the shelters, our eyes locked, nothing was said, everything was said.  After the all-clear was given, and the rockets had impacted nearby, we emerged from the shelter looked skyward, usually the direction of our t’fillah and the source of desperately needed rain, to see the smoke trails of rockets, smoke trails caused by people who wished harm upon us.

Davening resumed from exactly the point where it had been interrupted, with the line final line of Psalm 29, “The Lord will give strength unto His People, the Lord will bless His people with Peace” (JPS). No doubt a poetic conclusion, as well as the yearning of all in attendance. We resumed with a new vigor, with the intensity only created in the wake of a traumatic instant, speaking only for myself, and probably for others, tears streamed down my cheeks, hot tears of anger, tears of pain, and tears of relief. We again reached a crescendo in the final line of the piyut Ana Bekoach.

Ana Bekoach, as seven line piyut (liturgical poem), was composed by Rav Nehunia Ben Hakannah. The piyut contains a coded link to the first 42 letters of the Torah, the creation story, with the hopes of connecting the reader to the unlimited Divine energy that fashioned the world itself. Each line is said to correspond to a day of the week, and so it is only appropriate that as we began the seventh day, that verse rang most true. “Receive our pleas,  hear our cries, He who knows the mysteries.” As soon as the last words left my lips, I realized, that I had indeed plead, and that I had indeed cried out to the Knower of mysteries.

What had for several years been the section of Kabbalat Shabbat that unfurled the red carpet for L’cha Dodi, the central poem of Kabbalat Shabbat, was now laden with meaning. As those tears on my face began to evaporate and L’cha Dodi began, I realized that rationale for having missiles fired over our t’fillah may never be known to me, that even as I cried out, there exists some things that will forever be beyond my comprehension, and on that Shabbat evening it was the will of men wishing our harm and destruction.